1. A jury of whose peers?
Discussing the case of Gerald Stanley, charged and then found not guilty of the murder of Colten Boushie, Stephen Kimber writes:
In his instructions to the jury, Chief Justice Martel Popescul said jurors had three choices:
- agree with the Crown and convict Stanley of second-degree murder;
- conclude that Stanley should have known someone could get hurt and been careless handling the weapon, but that the shooting itself was accidental, meaning they should convict him of the lesser charge of manslaughter;
- or determine that Stanley’s response was reasonable in the circumstances, and acquit him.
The jury chose door number three — acquittal.
From 4,000 kilometres and six provinces away, I find that incomprehensible.
But I also know, from too-many-years observation that the view from inside a jury room inside a courthouse is often very different, and that even the most serious, best-intentioned jurors sometimes get it wrong — or at least different from me.
But that, at the end of the day, is not the key issue here.
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2. Examineradio 146: Erica Butler on Transit
This week, we talk with Examiner transportation columnist Erica Butler about all things transit. Also: Linda Pannozzo’s latest investigative piece about plans to pipe effluent from the Northern Pulp Mill into the Northumberland Strait, and Jennifer Henderson on the rights of people with mental disabilities.
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3. Strike vote
Nova Scotia Teachers Union is holding its strike authorization vote today. My finger-to-the-wind forecast is that it will pass.
4. Tidal power
“Cape Sharp Tidal sold only 41.4 megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity to Nova Scotia Power last year, enough to power the equivalent of about four homes, far short of the 500 the company claimed when it first deployed the turbine in the Minas Passage near Parrsboro,” reports Bruce Wark:
“Nova Scotia homes and businesses are now powered by North America’s first in-stream tidal turbine,” Cape Sharp said in a news release issued in November 2016. “The demonstration turbine — designed and manufactured by OpenHydro — uses a fraction of the estimated 7,000 MW potential of the Minas Passage to power the equivalent of about 500 Nova Scotia homes with energy from our tides,” the news release added.
However, Stacey Pineau, who speaks for Cape Sharp, said in an e-mail to The New Wark Times that in spite of its low power generation, the turbine deployment was a success.
“We’re still the first and only developer to successfully deploy a tidal turbine in the Bay of Fundy and connect it to the Nova Scotia power grid,” she wrote. “That’s a big achievement.”
Despite the “everything is great!” spin from Pineau, it’s clear the Cape Sharp project is under-performing and failing to meet even minimal expectations.
With the Cape Sharp turbines out of the water, all five berths at the FORCE test site in the Minas Passage are empty with no immediate plans for deployments by other tidal companies.
Mary McPhee, FORCE’s former facilities manager who quit her job in December, says the lack of activity raises questions about the future of the Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy.
“It’s more important now than ever that the public asks questions about what’s going on,” McPhee says adding that FORCE’s managers have isolated themselves in Halifax and are not engaging with communities and fishers affected by the tidal industry.
Nor do they seem to care, she says, that small communities such as Parrsboro aren’t benefitting more from tidal projects.
My view of this is that generating significant amounts of tidal power from the Minas Basin is a dubious project, at least in my lifetime. I’m happy to be wrong about that! But as I see it, the very worthy desire for renewable power — if we don’t get off fossil fuels stat, we’re going to experience climate change horrors we can’t even imagine — is wedded to an old school, capital-intensive giant project model. I think, however, the future is small scale renewable generation distributed through mainly local networks, coupled with efficiency. There’s room in my imagined future for large renewable generation stations distributed via DC lines across the continent (Al Gore’s vision), so tidal could become a part of it…. I just don’t see tidal happening quickly enough to work. Again, happy to be wrong.
Besides, at some point it becomes an issue of limited resources. For example, we could theoretically build a nuclear power plant that could meet much of the province’s power needs, but that would cost many billions of dollars and take something like 20 years, and in the end leave in place a giant centralized bureaucracy with an enormous debtload that could only be paid off by over-charging residents. Or, we could spend far less money much more quickly renovating every building in the province for heating efficiency and achieve greater greenhouse reductions — all while helping individual households economically.
We take bets at every turn. Right now we’re betting tidal will play out. What if it doesn’t? What are the lost opportunity costs?
5. Needlessly institutionalized
“An independent report that warned people with disabilities were being unjustly confined in a Nova Scotia psychiatric hospital is being described as ‘startling and disturbing’ by a law professor at Dalhousie University,” reports Michael Tutton for the Canadian Press:
Archie Kaiser, who teaches at the Schulich School of Law, said the province should have found housing in the community with supports for the residents, after the review was delivered to senior health officials almost 13 years ago.
“Nova Scotia should apologize for its failure,” Kaiser wrote in an email.
“Responsible ministers should take responsibility for the inaction of successive governments following the review. This has been a shameful and deplorable situation for citizens who deserve our support to live with us in the community.”
“That nasty red lesion you see in the middle of the map above is the sore spot of Nova Scotia’s family doctor shortage,” writes Bill Turpin:
Yep. Half of the people in Nova Scotia who can’t find a family doctor live in the communities surrounding Halifax Harbour.
That’s half the misery resting on the shoulders of 40 per cent of the population.
“We should really get that looked at,” Haligonians say? Well, good, but bear in mind the province still subsidizes new doctors to the tune of $105,000 for locating anywhere but Metro Halifax.
Yes, I’m going to keep banging this drum…
Friday, Robert Mueller, the U.S. Special Counsel appointed to investigate Russian interference in the U.S. election, convinced a grand jury to level charges against 13 Russian nationals and three associated Russian organizations. The grand jury’s indictment spells out in great detail an alleged conspiracy to affect the election through social media campaigns and even street demonstrations. Consider the size of the conspiracy:
By in or around April 2014, the ORGANIZATION formed a department that went by various names but was at times referred to as the “translator project.” This project focused on the U.S. population and conducted operations on social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. By approximately July 2016, more than eighty ORGANIZATION employees were assigned to the translator project.
By in or around September 2016, the ORGANIZATION’s monthly budget for Project Lakhta submitted to CONCORD exceeded 73 million Russian rubles (over 1,250,000 U.S. dollars), including approximately one million rubles in bonus payments.
Think about that: 80 employees working with a monthly budget of US$1.25 million. That operation was so large it probably would’ve gotten a payroll rebate had it moved to Nova Scotia. (It’s not like Nova Scotia Business Inc. has an ethical filter — it’ll give payroll rebates to any morally challenged organization that promises jobs.)
According to the indictment, those 80 Russian employees were not just creating social media accounts and buying Facebook ads and the like, but also travelling to the U.S. with falsely obtained visas, stealing the identity of real Americans, committing wire fraud, and more.
To be sure, so far, Mueller alleges merely (!) Russian interference in the election campaign, and not in the voting process itself. But it feels like another shoe is about to drop. And maybe even third and fourth shoes. By summer we should have a better picture of the Russian involvement in elections.
Certainly, American voting officials already understand the implications. Reports the Boston Globe:
Hoping to counter waves of Russian Twitter bots, fake social media accounts, and hacking attacks aimed at undermining American democracy, state election officials around the country are seizing on an old-school strategy: paper ballots.
Election officials are also turning away from fully electronic systems they fear can be hacked. They see paper as reassuring for voters: Physical ballots can be counted again if anything untoward happens to computerized tabulating systems.
About 30 states allow some form of electronic voting, most for overseas absentee voters. A handful prohibit full electronic voting, including Massachusetts, according to data compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Over the past several weeks, the nation’s top intelligence officials have said that Russians are already at work trying to disrupt the midterm elections, building on their efforts in 2016. In some cases, they are attempting to spread misinformation using social media platforms, while in others they are targeting the American election infrastructure.
Jeanette Manfra, chief cybersecurity official for the Department of Homeland Security, has also stated that Russian hackers targeted 21 states’ election systems before the 2016 presidential election, breaching a small number of them. She noted that there was no evidence any votes were changed.
To recap: American voting officials see the potential hacking of electronic voting systems as a real threat and are taking steps to counter it, including returning to paper ballots, but here in Halifax we’re still barrelling full-speed ahead on electronic voting — any byelections before the next general election will be entirely by electronic vote.
No, I don’t think the Russians have any interest in throwing a Halifax city council election, but somebody else might. And neither do I think the city and its contractors are up to the challenge of defending against a sustained attack on the electronic voting process — you don’t have to go far to see the city’s IT shortfalls; just go to the city website.
I simply cannot understand why the city is taking on this risk. It makes no sense at all. We should return to paper ballots.
8. 1981, Part 1
“Gottingen Street, one of Halifax main thoroughfares, used to extend into the far North End,” writes Robert Devet:
But in 1981 Halifax Council voted that the northern segment of Gottingen Street, beyond the Young Street intersection, now be called Novalea Drive.
The reasons behind that decision were tainted by racism and prejudice, and a survey of residents’ opinions conducted by the City purposely excluded most residents who lived along the street.
Curious about the name change, I spent some of the weekend reading through Halifax City Council minutes from 1981, and discovered there was a lot more besides the Novalea name change going on.
The year started with an acknowledgement that the city was in financial crisis. At council’s first meeting of the year, it passed a resolution “as Council proceeds along the budget route, Council give very serious consideration to asking the government of the Province of Nova Scotia for much greater assistance in the current year for the great problems that will be facing Council in the very near future.”
Weirdly, to my eyes anyway, council took time at its February 12 meeting to consider praising the Chronicle Herald and Mail Star newspapers. At the time, the federal Kent Commission was examining the concentration of ownership in the newspaper industry, and for whatever reason, councillors wanted to express their joy with the local papers. The proposed resolution read:
Whereas the Halifax Herald Limited, publishers of the Halifax Chronicle Herald and the Mail-Star has been a vital and integral part of all of the history and development of the City of Halifax;
And whereas the two afore-mentioned papers have provided the citizens of Halifax with continual coverage of local, provincial, national, and international news since their inception many, many years ago;
And whereas the role played by these two great newspapers in the dissemination of news, opinion, promotion, civic awareness and concern has contributed greatly to the general development and growth of the City and Province;
Be it resolved that the Council and citizens of this City, the City of Halifax, make it known to the Kent Commission on Newspapers that it supports and acknowledges the effort and the presence of these two great newspapers in our City.
Holy cow! Nowadays councillors spend their time berating journalists for accurately quoting them. In any case, the city solicitor seems to have convinced councillors in 1981 to first delay a vote on the motion, and then to drop it entirely. It was never passed.
As for the fiscal situation, a looming crisis was on the horizon — a potential police strike. At its March 26 meeting, council passed a motion “that Halifax City Council authorize the Mayor of the City of Halifax to request of the Attorney-General for the Province of Nova Scotia the service of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and any other police sources available to him, in the event of a police strike in the City of Halifax.”
On the plus side, council was regularly discussing three silver bullets that would bring economic Nirvana to Halifax — a new convention centre; a proposed industrial park in the Long Lake–Chain of Lakes watershed (later to be called the Bayers Lake Industrial Park); and a new container terminal at Fairview Cove, although one councillor worried that wayward ships would hit the bridge piers and bring commuting disaster.
The Gottingen/Novalea issue came up in the middle of all this economic fretting. The idea for a mail-out survey of residents for the name change was defeated at a previous “Committee on Works” meeting, but at council’s May 14 meeting, Alderman Gerald O’Malley (who represented the north-of-Young area) moved that council simply adopt the name change without a survey of residents. That motion resulted in a tie vote, six for and six against, and Mayor Ron Wallace broke the tie by voting against. O’Malley then moved that staff conduct the survey of residents, and that motion passed.
O’Malley brought the Novalea issue forward again at the June 17 meeting of council. By that time, the survey had been complete, but it had asked only those residents north of Young Street about the proposed name change. O’Malley moved that the name change be implemented “forthwith.” Alderman Doris Maley, however, moved that the matter be delayed to the next council meeting as she wanted to hear from residents before voting. Alderman Graham Downey, the city’s only Black councillor, who represented the Gottingen Street business district, seconded the motion. But Maley’s motion failed. The minutes read:
Alderman Downey spoke to the matter and advised he would like to have input from the whole of the street, not just the northern end, with input from the merchants from the street as well.
Following a brief discussion the motion that the name be changed was put and passed with Aldermen Maley and Downey against. The Motion that the name be changed to Novalea Drive was put and passed with Aldermen Maley and Downey against.
I’ll continue with the rest of the year tomorrow.
Halifax and West Community Council (Tuesday, 6pm, City Hall) — the council is having a public hearing to consider proposed zoning changes in the Regency Park Drive/ Washmill Court area.
Audit and Finance Standing Committee (Wednesday, 10am, City Hall) — the Halifax Hospice is asking for a million dollars, and the new YMCA is asking for a million and a half; in its letter to council, the YMCA explains that:
Seven years ago the facility was budgeted at $31M and the YMCA has successfully raised $27M to date the secured $41M in financing to build this sustainable [no, I don’t know what “sustainable” means in this context either], much needed full service YMCA facility. However, like many of the projects going up in Halifax today, the YMCA is experiencing a budgetary challenge based on the current economics.
Over the last seven years, the budgeted costs have risen slightly less than 20% or $6M to a projected cost of $37M. Although thorough value engineer (sic) has been rigorously applied to the project, the scope of the facility remains unchanged.
Key contributing factors to the $6M increase in costs from 2011 include:
• seven years of cost escalation from initial budget (approx. 2-3% per year)
• Currency fluctuation — with most of our equipment from the US and a growing imbalance between our two currencies from our original budget
• Halifax construction projects are experiencing less competitive bids based on the availability of contractors and construction materials.
At its height in 2011, the loonie was at or above par with the U.S. dollar, but that was a temporary blip — two years before, and now, it sits at about 80 cents U.S.
More interesting is the claim (probably true) that the Halifax construction market is less competitive than it was.
I can’t imagine that the city can pony up a million dollars for the Hospice or a million and a half for the YMCA. As worthy of a project as the Hospice may be, it clearly doesn’t fall under the city’s responsibilities as defined by the separation of services agreement with the province.
As for the YMCA, sure, maybe it could be considered a rec program, but to put it mildly, $1.5 million is a lot of money. It certainly doesn’t fit into the city’s existing rec budget — remember that we are starving janitors at the Sackville Sports Stadium because (supposedly) we can’t afford to pay them a living wage.
But the people behind the Y wield immense political power. The public hearing held to determine whether the building would be permitted in the first place was framed as a morality play — if you were against the building, you hated children, god, and healthy adults. And councillors willingly went along with that framing, playing to the crowd to demonstrate their children-, god-, and healthy adults-bonafides. So it wouldn’t surprise me if council rolled over and found the money.
If council does somehow find the money to bail out the Y, then it should translate into an equal amount, plus interest, returned to the city in terms of free Y memberships for low-income people.
Veterans Affairs (Tuesday, 2pm, One Government Place) — Jim Lowther, the president of Veterans Emergency Transition Services Canada, will talk about the Boots on the Ground Campaign and Guitars for Vets.
Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, Province House) — Tracey Taweel, the DM at Communities, Culture and Heritage, will talk about why the department doesn’t use the Oxford comma. Also, grants.
Mount Saint Vincent
How I Read the News (Tuesday, 2pm, McCain 301-302) — Desmond Cole will talk about “the media and how narratives of anti-Blackness, policing, and mythologies of a benevolent Canada are created and sustained in the news.”
In the harbour
5:30am: Grande New York, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Gioia Tauro, Italy
6am: Bomar Rebecca, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from San Juan, Puerto Rico
11am: Fritz Reuter, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Lisbon, Portugal
12:45pm: Grande New York, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
6pm: Fritz Reuter, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for Mariel, Cuba
10pm: Asian Moon, container ship, sails from Pier 31 for sea
I spent much of the weekend in bed. Might have to do that again today…